Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Table Talk: Reader Questions 3.0

Reader questions continue to enter arrive at the Table Talk offices. So, this week, Barry Reese, Bobby Nash and Mike Bullock take some time to respond to two readers and their great questions.

Question (Mark Holmes): I first met Bobby Nash after reading a comic he co-wrote titled Domino Lady vs Mummy. I personally thought the writing on the book completely missed the main focus of the story. I contacted Bobby and his co-author. Bobby answered me and we had a pretty lively discussion about the book. His co-author never replied to my e-mail. He acted like a complete professional where as I acted too emotionally.
Having said that I still have the same opinion about the book. I have read and enjoyed other samples of Bobby's work. Generally how do you guys as writers take negative feedback from a story and have you ever agreed with negative feedback?

Bobby: I appreciate the fact that someone takes the time to write. It’s always great when it’s positive feedback, but even when it’s negative feedback I still appreciate the fact that the person writing not only plunked down their hard-earned money for the book, but that they also took the time to look me up and write to me.

While I hope that everything I work on will be well received I realize that there will always be some that don’t like it. I don’t like reading negative reviews of my work, I’m sure no one does, but it comes with the territory. Mark and I had lively discussions about the book on my website and on Facebook. Mark was very passionate in his comments and his explanation of why he did not like the comic book in question (and he had some good and valid points) because he cared about the characters and the story. I enjoyed our discussion because it was about the work, the book, and the characters. It wasn’t a “you suck” type of discussion. I’ve seen many of those on comic book sites and forums and I always feel bad for the creators that are being trashed. I think our discussion went very well and Mark and I still have the occasional friendly chat via Facebook.

Not only did I come out of the experience with a new friend, but Mark read some of my other work afterward, which he informed me he liked better than the Domino Lady/Mummy comic. Had our discussion gone differently, or I not responded to his comments, that might not have happened. I love talking with people about the work and it’s great when someone takes the time to write.

Thanks for the question, Mark.

Barry: Well, we all want everyone to love our work but that’s just not possible. I’ve gotten some negative feedback along the way – some of it of the mean-spirited variety. One guy posted a review of one of my books that was incredibly vitriolic, to the point where I wondered if I’d kicked the guy’s dog or something and forgotten about it. He really seemed to take his dislike of my work to a personal level. But it was kind of funny how extreme it was so I actually passed it around to people, asking them to read it! When it comes to the over-the-top negativity, I try not to let it hurt my feelings and tell myself that even if that person doesn’t like it, I’ve accomplished an awful lot so I must be better than they said.

If it’s a legitimate set of criticisms, I certainly listen to them and try to see if there are things there that I might want to incorporate going forward. I’ve changed things after seeing people’s comments, to be sure. And there are certainly criticisms I’ve read that I immediately recognized, because I was afraid that was a weakness in the work when I wrote it.

Mike: I actually enjoy getting negative feedback more than praise. While it's great to hear people say they love my work, there's something of a challenge in getting negative feedback. If someone can articulate why they didn't like something that is. If all I get is [paraphrase] that sucks [/paraphrase] they I simply disregard it. But, as Bobby says, if someone plunked down their cash and then took the time to give a well thought out critique, it helps me grow as a writer and gives me a virtual viewpoint of my work I wouldn't have otherwise.

Great question, Mark.

Question (C William Russette): When it comes to the germ of the tale what comes first most often: one of the main characters, the story or the world? Why do you think that is?

Bobby: It varies from project to project, but for me it often starts with a character and a question. With my schedule, especially the past several months, I tend to finish one story and immediately start on the next. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always leave me with a lot of time to plot ahead. I don’t do outlines because when it comes time to write the story I feel like I’ve already done it because I spent all that time on the outline.

I usually start with a character and ask “What if...?” Sometimes it’s the main character of the story as in my story for Barry’s upcoming Tales of The Rook anthology. “What if The Rook were trapped in a fire?” From there I start with our hero, The Rook stepping into a trap and the room bursting into flames around him. Then I follow the character to see where he goes next.

Sometimes it’s a character created for the story as in my story for the upcoming The Spider anthology. “What if a psychic has a vision of herself and Nita Van Sloan being chased by a monster that she thinks is The Spider because she sees him in the vision as well?” In that story I start with a character who will interact with our heroes and follow that character through to their meeting. In both of those instances it all started with character. I had to get to know those characters and then watch how that character handled that particular situation.

Even if I have a story idea, it would turn out differently considering which character was dropped into it. The Rook handles being trapped in a burning building differently than Doc Savage or The Avenger would. The story adjusts to fit the character. I try never to adjust the character to fit the story because then it won’t feel true and the character will be written “out of character.”

Barry: It varies every time. Right now I’m working on a Thunder Jim Wade tale for Pulp Obscura and in that case, I started by understanding the character and then reading all the old stories – then I said “What’s a plot that would feel right for this character and wouldn’t be a repeat of what’s been done before?” So in that case, I started with the character and then came up with a story. But there are certainly times, I’ve had the setting first or a plot with no characters to begin with. It really depends.

Mike: For me, just as with Barry and Bobby, it varies greatly. Xander sprang to life in my head as a character with no story other than the one I imagined that spawned him and gave him his mission. Conversely, with Dr. Dusk, I had the story and built the character to suit it.

Inspiration has a mind of its own and seems to come from all angles, hurtling along in any number of different vectors.

Bobby: Sometimes the characters take on a life of their own and you follow where they lead.

Mike: Exactly. It's as if we're just reporters following them around chronicling their adventures. Man, the very idea of that gig makes my adrenalin pump!


  1. Thanks for answering my question guys, you are true professionals. I never even thought of the "you suck" kind of criticism, seems so pointless. When I give feedback I try to articulate as best I can what I liked or did not. A general slam against a person who might have just been doing a job the way he was asked makes no sense to me.

    1. "I personally thought the writing on the book completely missed the main focus of the story."

      I suppose I would need the person who posed the query to elaborate. Missed the point?

      I got some bad advice/criticism and nearly gave up on writing for a decade. One day, I realized that his criticism was intended to be hurtful, not helpful. There are people out there who will relish the opportunity to put you down. Make certain you can tell good advice from "frenemy" advice, and keep pecking away. Just because one person doesn't like your story doesn't mean someone else won't.

    2. My point to Bobby was the title of the book was Domino Lady vs Mummy, in my opinion there was very little Mummy story and too much time was focused on the "B" story. As Bobby stated we had a good discussion about the book and came away friends. I did not care for that book. Does a fan have to like everything a writer has done to be a fan?
      The person who gave you bad advice/criticism, did you discuss his points with him? As Bobby did with me. Did you show his critic to friends and colleagues to see if his advice was valid, as Barry did?
      Or like Mike, take it like a challenge and continue writing!

  2. I've always had the opinion that a reader pays for reading my stories with something more valuable than money: time out of their life that they'll never back. That entitles them to their feedback, positive or negative. It's not the job of the reader to be nice to me. It's my job to take the negative criticism in the same spirit I take the positive criticism.

    Oh, of course I get the "You suck" style of criticism which I never pay attention to. I pay attention to the feedback where the readers tell what didn't work for them and why.

  3. Agreed. If someone takes the time to write then I am more than happy to chat with them.


  4. Excellent question and responses, fellows. I think I may tackle that one on my blog too, if you don't mind.


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